Sometimes you just need a Mom– someone who will cook you a delicious meal, do your laundry for you, and in general make sure you have everything you need. And sometimes when you’re on a long RTW trip, constantly moving to a new city every few days, you just need a moment to unwind and reflect.
Our stay at Risto’s Guest House in the little village of Elshani on Lake Ohrid, Macedonia, provided us with exactly these opportunities: a wonderful “Mom” personality in Risto’s wife Anita, and some beautiful scenery to enjoy while relaxing.
I first found Risto’s Guest House when I was searching online for cooking classes around Lake Ohrid. I started reading reviews of the guest house that mentioned things like home-cooked meals, wonderful hospitality, and stunning views of the lake. The guest house seemed reminiscent of the guest house we stayed in in Govedartsi, Bulgaria- one of my favorite food experiences on our trip so far– and I knew we had to stay at Risto’s.
Shortly after meeting Risto and Anita when we arrived we were offered homemade berry juice, made from berries picked up in the hills above the village. As we enjoyed our juices on the patio overlooking the lake, I could feel the tension in my shoulders start to slip away. Before dinner we got to relax on the balcony outside our room and watch the sun go down over the lake- picture perfect!
Delicious Homemade Meals
As we would come to realize over the next few days, you don’t need to eat lunch when you stay at Risto’s- breakfast and dinner are extremely filling! Breakfast consisted of things like cheese, sausages, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, savory pies, pastries, omelets, and crepe-like pancakes with jam. Dinners started with a delicious homemade soup, an appetizer platter, and a salad. For entrées we had stuffed peppers one night, fish from the lake another night (rich and meaty, with the color and texture of salmon), and savory pies that we made in the cooking class the final night.
The food is simple but good and comforting, and best of all, it is made with things that Risto and Anita grow in their garden. Even the cheeses are made from milk from their cows and sheep.
And let’s not forget the homemade wine and rakija! The wine was a simple rosé, and the rakija was some of the best we’ve had on our trip. Anita even showed us one of the communal rakija distilleries in the village (they have 5, even though the village only has several hundred people!).
Our cooking class was great fun, too. We learned how to make the pies that we’d had several times throughout our stay. I knew they were going to be good when Anita said she didn’t have a recipe and just used her intuition. We made a savory pie with leeks and potatoes and a sweet pie with apples. It was so much food that Anita wrapped up the leftovers for us, which we enjoyed in Skopje the next few days.
Everyone in the hostel was insanely jealous.
Learning About Village Life and Macedonian Culture
Perhaps what was even better than the food at Risto’s was the company. Every night after dinner we talked with Risto and Anita for an hour or more about everything under the sun; we learned so many unique things about village life and Macedonian culture. For example, parents must build each of their sons a house that they can move into when they get married. They already have a good start on their oldest son’s house, and he’s only 9! Also interesting and in some ways sad are that the younger generations in the village are moving away from some of the traditions, particularly things like making the homemade wine and rakija and raising animals.
Our after dinner conversations also included stories about guests from all over the world that have stayed there. As we are doing a fair bit of traveling ourselves, it was fun to share our experiences with different cultures, too. We both shared the opinion that people all over the world have more similarities than differences (for example, mother-in-law jokes are funny everywhere!), but the differences are what make humanity beautiful.
Logistics and Other Details
Risto’s Guest House is closed in the winter, so you’ll have to wait until spring to check it out. Although the guest house is located 13 kilometers away from Ohrid town, getting around without a car is still possible. Local buses go between Ohrid and Elshani several times a day, and Anita can give you the schedule. It’s also possible to walk down to the main road and catch a bus to Sveti Naum monastery. Taxis are also relatively cheap, about $10 US, between Ohrid town and Elshani.
For our stay, including 4 nights, three dinners, breakfasts, drinks, a cooking class, and one load of laundry, we spent approximately 12,000 Macedonian Denars ($266 US), or roughly $67/day. This price excludes our transportation to Ohrid town and Sveti Naum monastery.
Risto’s Guest House was one of those places that we hated to leave because it had come to feel so much like a home. We loved the adorable village- hearing the donkeys bray, seeing all the dried peppers strung up on front porches, and waving “hi” to the friendly shepherds. And we really didn’t want to leave the beautiful views of the lake from our room, all the home cooking, and the hospitality of Risto and Anita.
If we ever find our way back to Macedonia, we’ll definitely be stopping here again!